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Yup, they have finally done it. Google have today announced that they will be expanding same meaning close variants to Broad Match Modifier (BMM) and Phrase Match keywords. This was expected after leaks happened from this years Google Marketing Live, so it doesn’t come as a big surprise. But this does raise questions about the future of keywords and what this means for you. Today, we’ll answer that for you.


What’s the background?

Google have been broadening the meaning of keyword match types for a number of years now. Google have continued to expand the number of queries matched by keywords, using its machine learning to “help advertisers” target the queries that matter most.

  • 2014 saw them start to introduce changes to campaigns where they required close variants to be included. Back then, this meant plurals, misspells and some other variations of Exact and Phrase Match keywords.
  • In 2017 we saw a real shift in the change to Exact Match where they included additional rewording and reordering.
  • Last year, Google then expanded Exact Match again to focus more on Signals & Intent. This meant that they used advanced machine learning to capture more queries if they felt as though the intent in the search query was the same as the keyword you are targeting.

What have Google changed this time?

Google has expanded this same meaning close variant update to BMM and Phrase Match

In the coming weeks broad match modifier and phrase match keywords will also begin matching to words within the search query that share the same meaning as the keyword. (Google Ads Help, 2019)

Broad Match Modifier keywords currently match to queries that include the same words as the keyword or their close variants, these matched words can be in any order. Before today, close variants have only included misspellings, singular or plural, abbreviations, and accents.

With Phrase Match Keywords, this allowed you to show ads for queries that included your keywords or close variants of the exact phrase of your keyword, with additional words only before and after.

In the coming weeks, close variants will now also include words with the same meaning as the keyword.

Here’s an example of what could happen for Broad Match Modifier keywords:

BMM

Credit: Google Ads Help, 2019

You can see in the above example that BMM would now capture traffic for a lot more different queries; almost a hybrid of Broad and Broad Match Modifier.

And here for Phrase Match Keywords:

Phrase

Credit: Google Ads Help, 2019

Phrase is still a little bit more controlled compared to Broad Match Modifier. You still have the structure and choice to keep some wording in the same order, however some of the words have been replaced with what Google deems as ‘same-meaning’.

Changes to keyword selection preferences

Google has learned from the past and knows that advertisers aren’t going to necessarily warm to this change right off the bat. So it’s “kindly” given advertisers reassurances about maintaining control and flexibility.

If a query currently matches to an exact, phrase, or broad match modifier keyword that exists in your account, we’ll prevent that query from matching to a different phrase or broad match modifier keyword that’s now eligible for the same auction as a result of this update. (Google Ads Help, 2019)

To make this clearer, Google gives an expansion of the above example for Phrase Match. So if for example you have two Phrase Match keywords targeted in your account “lawn mowing service” and “grass cutting service” then the search query “lawn mowing service near me” could now technically be triggered by both of the targeted Phrase keywords. If though this keyword currently matches with “lawn mowing service”, it will continue to do so and will not be triggered by “grass cutting service”.

This update will help ensure that cannibalisation between search queries is minimised. I say minimised, and not removed, because there could be certain cases where this cannibalisation could occur. For example, if you don’t have correct negatives in place, if campaign budget is constrained etc.


What does this mean for you?

An increase in traffic & cost is almost inevitable. Monitor your performance

In the announcement, Google has said that they expect advertisers to see between 3-4% more clicks on these keywords. Of these new queries matched apparently 85% of them are not currently covered by your current keyword coverage. Google’s argument is that it is working to ‘plug the gap’ for users and advertisers, but this means that advertisers will have to invest more in Search and work harder to get the results.

I don’t know about you, but i’m starting to warm up to the idea using a Exact + Phrase Match strategy

Historically i’ve always been an Exact + BMM kind of guy. But this change is definitely warming me up to the idea of having Exact and Phrase match strategy. Might be worth a test!

Revise your Negative Keyword Strategy

I predict that you’ll be needing to dig even deeper through Search Query data over the next few months. Making sure that you have a good structure to your Negative Keyword Lists means that you’ll streamline your workload, and also match to the most relevant queries to your business goals. You’ll also be able to use this as a safeguard for ensuring there is no cannibalisation across your account.

It’s another way for Google to force you to utilise more Smart Bidding, Audiences, Responsive Search Ads

This will help you better target the right people, at the right time, with the right message. That way, your ads will be more targeted to the user, Google makes more money, and you should see the performance you want from your campaigns. Combining all of this automation and machine learning will help you drive better results. I know it’s been forced upon us, and the Paid Search community is notorious for slowly getting used to changes, but if you aren’t using any Smart Bidding, not utilising the depth of Audience Types or even testing Responsive Search Ads; i’m sorry to say you are going to be left behind.

This isn’t the last change we will see

The change to which this has happened over the past few years has been astonishing. I expect more changes to happen to Keyword targeting in 2020/2021. Are we starting to see the extinction of the Keyword accelerating?

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Dan Roberts

Founder & Author at PPC hubbub
Dan has worked across different agencies in the UK for over 6 years. He was awarded Rising Star at The Drum Search Awards in 2015. Google voted him as one of the Top 20 Search Specialists in the UK. He founded PPC hubbub after becoming frustrated with the lack of actionable insight from blogs.

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Dan Roberts
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